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Palm Trees and Power Lines

Troubled teen avoids summer reading list.

Synopsis: Teen girl meets creep. Trouble follows. (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Are summer reading lists for teens just an American high school thing? School districts assign summer reading lists designed to keep kids’ brains working over the summer. This way students will be ready for various state tests, conducted in between active shooter drills.

Palm Trees and Power Lines isn’t an examination of the importance/or not of summer reading lists, but it does looks at the sorts of things teens get up to when–as their grandparents might say–they have too much time on their hands.

Lea (Lily McInery) lives in SoCal and it’s the summer before her senior year in high school. She’s bored. She’s not interested in getting a job. Her mom, Sandra (Gretchen Mol) bounces between boyfriends. Her friends are all a-holes.

Lea’s friend, Amber (Quinn Frankel), stops over to the bungalow where Lea and her single mom live. The friends relax on chaises, sunbathing. This is our first hint of Lea’s feckless ways. She appears to be using some sort of tanning oil, instead of sunscreen. They giggle as Amber sexually objectifies a nearby landscape worker. Leave him alone, he’s just trying to cut grass, not audition for a porno!

After scorching their skin for awhile, they walk to a donut shop. Just outside the place, they snatch some ciggie butts from an ashcan. Another red flag! Imagine the carcinogens and germs. After sitting down at a table with their donuts, they giggle. Amber suggestively licks her pastry, then moves on to miming intercourse, with her tongue piercing the donut hole. Perhaps Lea should head home and start her first summer book before Amber starts an orgy with some nearby donut holes.

Later that night, the girls continue to YOLO. They meet up with a few guys from school at a baseball field. Amber stays busy giggling with their friends outdoors  while Lea has sex with one of the guys in a car. She looks very bored. Watch out for mucking up those seats, kids!

The next day, Lea’s real estate agent mom asks her if she has started her reading list. Of course she hasn’t, lady. “Mom,” she whines, “I wwwwill!” Instead, she heads out a few hours later because her mom reports she will be entertaining a friend.

Lea meets her a-hole friends at a diner. The guys are naming girls at schools and ranking them. Amber is ranking them too. Some guy in his thirties walks past their table and winks at Lea. Before the bill comes, they dine and dash. Lea hesitates, but then runs out too. As she walks off on her own, 30’s Guy offers her a ride home in his truck. I cringed when she accepts, saying: Just don’t murder me. He agrees to her condition, ha ha. In his tricked-out truck, Lea lights a ciggie to show she’s not a kid.  They exchange names & ages: she’s Lea, 17.  He’s Tom, 34. 30’s Guy (Jonathan Tucker) says she seems a lot more mature than her friends in the diner. He advises that she hang out with people more on her level. Suggesting, of course: Hang out with me, a guy twice your age!

Creep tells teen that he never did a summer reading list and he turned out okay.

They exchange cell numbers. What follows is more meeting up in his truck where Lea explains Instagram and hashtags to Tom aka 30’s Guy. He tells her that he does whatever he wants because he has his own repair business. But 30’s Guy seems to be available whenever for quasi-dates. And I began to wonder if he actually lived in his truck. Non-spoiler alert, he lives in a rundown motel room.

Poor Lea, her judgment is way off. She thinks that she is worldly and sophisticated. But she’s not an adult yet, and anything he says makes sense to her. For example, at one point he demands that she trust him. Once she tells him she does, he orders her to get in his damned truck that he’s so proud of.

Okay, about halfway through the movie we can see that this is going in one of two directions: the creep will manipulate her into sex or, after manipulating her, he’ll sex traffick her. All I can say is, I was so hoping Lea would come to her senses and run away from him. Because, unlike in a Lifetime movie, Lea’s mother is too involved with her own extracurriculars to get a clue and rescue her daughter.

The lesson here seems to be: beware of creepers and dedicate yourself to that summer reading list.

Trigger Warning:  There is a very disturbing motel room scene that involves an exploited Lea. There is no nudity, but it’s nonetheless graphic. It made my skin crawl.

If you want to know what happens, but don’t want to see the controversial scene in question; continue reading.   SPOILER ALERT:  Yes, 30s Guy has sex with her and pimps her out. She cuts ties with him towards the end of the movie, but THEN… she calls him and the film finishes with her smiling and saying she misses him too. Ewwww

Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:  C

Cut to the Chase: An important topic: adult predators who groom vulnerable kids. But, while the two leads are good, Lea’s character is really underwritten. And the film just isn’t good enough to counterbalance a very heavy, gross scene.

Humor Highlight: The creepy 30’s Guy’s boasts and transparent lies.

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